Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
Soup Like Mom Used to Make
Many years ago, my mother and an aunt enrolled on a continental cookery course to give themselves something to do on a midweek evening. This was in the good old days (or dark ages, depending on your memory) before computer print-outs, so my mother’s recipes were all hand-written in a reporter’s notebook. Among them was a recipe for minestrone soup.
This thick soup is of Italian origin, but it doesn't take its name from a particular region of Italy in the manner of Bolognese sauce and Arborio rice. There are many variations to it, so if you have any assortment of vegetables to hand then you're probably good to go, minestrone-wise.
For example, some recipes list potato in the ingredients, while others don't, and there are those that suggest adding rice instead of pasta. This soup is open to so much interpretation, I half expected the word minestrone to be Italian for do as you please. It's not—so what is the origin of the word? According to Wikipedia:
The word minestrone, meaning a thick vegetable soup, is attested in English from 1871. It is from Italian minestrone, the augmentative form of minestra, "soup", or more literally, "that which is served", from minestrare, "to serve" and cognate with administer as in "to administer a remedy".
So now you know.
What Is a Mirepoix?
Many great dishes start with a mirepoix (pronounced "meerpwah"), which is the sauteing of finely chopped or minced onion, carrot and celery. A true mirepoix uses two parts onion to one of carrot and celery, but I find that any combination works well. Saute these vegetables over a low heat until they are soft, and you’ll have a flavoursome base for your soup.
What Makes a Minestrone?
And so, on to the mechanics of the soup.
As mentioned above, there are many vegetables that go well in minestrone. Alongside the mirepoix you could include anything from this selection: broccoli, white cabbage, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, swede, potato, kale, leek and courgette. Or you could experiment with other vegetables.
Read More From Delishably
The minestrone recipe my mother wrote down serves an indication as to how times have changed. The legume used in that recipe was a tin of baked beans. Back in those days, a can of chick peas or cannelini beans would not have been easy to procure, unlike the ubiquitous variety we all love on toast. Of course, the tomato sauce in a tin of baked beans is quite sweet (sugar comes second on the list of sauce ingredients, after water), and this sweetness will infiltrate the stock. This still makes a very tasty soup, but some prefer a more savoury version. I once worked at a restaurant where the Iranian chef used only chick peas for the minestrone. Personally, I’ve tried chick peas, cannelini beans, white kidney beans, pinto beans and mung beans. I’ve also kicked it old-school with baked beans. I add the beans near the end of cooking so they don’t disintegrate
One thing to bear in mind when choosing a pasta to use in soup is that after it has cooked, the pasta will continue to absorb liquid until it is quite soggy. Full-sized pasta shapes, like shells or rigatoni, will swell and dominate the bowl. If you prefer your pasta to be less dominant, there are several small versions made specially for soup. These include orzo (also known as risoni), which is in the shape of large grains of rice, ditalini, a very short-cut macaroni, and stelline, which is star-shaped. The addition of pasta turns a soup into a meal.
Oh no! Vegan Cheese
Vegan cheeses are a proper hit-and-miss affair. There are some that are reported to taste like feet, and others that are quite nice. I don’t use much cheese, but I do like it in minestrone, particularly a Greek-style brand that melts into a salty creaminess in the soup. There has been a lot of investment into the development of that holy grail: a realistic cheese that melts and stretches. Watch this space.
Let's Talk About Stock, Baby
Vegetable stock cubes are easy to come by these days, as are those pods of concentrated stock that are simply dropped into the pan. It is quite simple to make your own vegetable stock, but not as simple as crumbling a cube. When making this soup, I like to add a stock cube and a spoonful of yeast extract, which I think goes very well with a tomato base.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or 1 cm water for oil-free)
- 1 large onion finely, chopped
- 2 carrots (or 1 large), finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 3 cloves minced garlic (or more if you’re a fiend)
- ¼ white cabbage, chopped
- 1 courgette, chopped
- ½ head of broccoli broken into small florets
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 litre vegetable stock (in my case, 1 stock cube and 1 teaspoon yeast extract)
- ½ cup (a handful) small pasta
- 1 carton passata (or 3 tablespoons tomato puree thinned with water)
- 1 can cannellini beans
- 1 bay leaf
- Saute the mirepoix in the oil over low heat until tender.
- Add the garlic, oregano, bay leaf and vegetables. Stir everything around for 1 minute.
- Add the stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to maintain a simmer, and leave this for 10 minutes or so.
- Add the pasta and continue simmering for 10 minutes more.
- When the vegetables are cooked, add the passata and beans, and remove the bay leaf. Stir everything up and let bring it back to a simmer. Check and adjust seasoning (black pepper goes very well with minestrone).
- Serve piping hot with cheese and crusty bread.
Minestrone Prep Playlist
There are several vegetables to prepare for this soup, so to keep you smiling as you chop, why not have a blast of "Part Time Punks" by the Television Personalities? Two chords never sounded so sweet.